History of Special Needs Provision In Ireland
Special needs provision in Ireland has come through 3 phases since the founding of the state in 1919. Until the early 1990s most of the education and care of children were carried out by the religious orders of Ireland. The government had little or no need for policies or legislation around education and care.
Irelands education system was founded in 1831 while under English rule. This made it compulsory for children between the ages of six and fourteen to attend school.(chevron notes,2016)
The era of neglect and denial
The Department of Education was established in 1924. In regards to a child with special needs the government did not consider that the education of children with special needs was necessary as their needs were seen as purely medical. Most children with special needs lived in hospitals or county homes.
The era of the special school
The era of the special school was when a number of religious orders set up special schools for children with special needs. The education and care was purely up to the religious orders. In this era the government now believed a child with special needs needed to be educated but not with “normal” children. (chevron notes,2016) They believed the special needs child would interfere with the education of the other children and because of that they couldn’t be educated in the same school. This with an increased awareness of how special needs provision had fallen behind other countries resulted in a change in government policy and legislation. In 1959 the First inspectorate for special education was established.
The era of integration and inclusion
The era of integration and inclusion was when the government introduced policies of the education of a special needs child. This was done because there was a significant decline in religion and religious orders. The state took over the care and education of children with additional needs. There was an emphasis put on inclusion and integration. This meant allowing a child with special needs to be thought in a main stream school alongside children who did not have any additional needs. This did happen but children with special needs were thought in a separate classrooms. They were being educated but not being included. The government set up a number of policies and initiatives surrounding the integration and inclusion of not just children with special needs but all children from all backgrounds. The report of the Special Education Review Committee was published in 1993 .This report was important for a number of reasons. It provided a definition of special needs that included those with severe and profound difficulties through to those who were exceptionally able and it included both physical and mental disabilities. (chevron notes, 2016)
The white paper on education “charting our educational future” 1995 state that the key commitments of the initiative are
• The development of the Early Start pre-school programme in disadvantaged areas.
• The revision of the Primary School Curriculum to include more precisely stated learning objectives, sensitive and systematic assessment of student’ potential and needs, literacy and numeracy, the arts, Irish, science, European awareness programmes, and the promotion of health and well-being.
• The needs of children with disabilities will receive special attention, ranging from mainstream provision to special provision
• The full participation of all traveller children of primary school-going age in primary education (Kildare.ie/education)
The Education/Childcare sector in an Irish Context
The childcare and education sector with regard to provision for special educational needs have strengthened and improved in recent decades. Many positive advances have been made in educating children with special needs. Children with special needs are entitled to a free education until they reach eighteen years of age. They are entitled to help and support from resource teachers and special needs assistants if they need and to be educated in the same environment as every other child and to be treated equally.
Government influences on the education/childcare sector
The education act 1998 says that every child is entitled to a free education even those with special needs. The education act 1998 gives the Minister for Education and Skills certain functions in respect of funding, including the funding of support services for students with disabilities. Schools must use their available resources to ensure that the educational needs of all students, including those with disabilities, are identified and provided for. (Citizensinformation.ie, 2018)
The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 provides for the education of children aged under 18 years with special educational needs. The Act states that a number of different services are to be provided to people with special educational needs. These include assessments, education plans and other support services. Parents can seek assessments of a child’s educational needs. Assessments can be initiated by the Health Service Executive, by a school principal or by the National Council for Special Education. (Citizensinformation.ie, 2018)
The roll and responsibilities of a special needs assistant
The roll of a special needs assistant is to give general assistance to the class teachers, under the direction of the Principal, with duties of a non-teaching nature. Special Needs Assistants may not act as either substitute or temporary teachers. In no circumstances may they be left in sole charge of a class.The Department of Education and Skills defines the role of an SNA as:
• Assisting children to board and alight from school buses. Where necessary travel as escort on school buses may be required.
• Special assistance as necessary for pupils with particular difficulties e.g. helping physically disabled pupils with typing or writing.
• Assistance with clothing, feeding, toileting and general hygiene.
• Assisting on out-of-school visits, walks and similar activities
• Assisting teachers in the supervision of children with special needs during assembly, recreational and dispersal periods.
• Accompanying individuals or small groups who may have withdrawn temporarily from the classroom.
• Where a Special Needs Assistant has been appointed to assist a school in catering for a specific pupil, duties should be modified to support the particular needs of the pupil concerned. (Asiam.ie, 2018)
The above duties are what the department of education and skills define for a special needs assistant but in reality it is much more. A special needs assistant provide a safety net for the child and are a friendly face that they can be familiar with and learn to trust. A special needs assistant must be able to focus on specific challenges that a special needs child may encounter in the day to day life of school. For example if a child with autism can not deal with large crowds and over crowding the special needs assistant may have another task for the child if it were assembly time. Therefore keeping the child’s best interest and preventing an uncomfortable situation for the child. The SNA plays an important role in enabling a child with Autism to become more independent. The skill of knowing the balance between gently pushing them on and keeping their limits in mind once the child with special needs gets to know the special needs assistant and trust that they will be there if things get too much for them, it can really boost their confidence.
How the Special Needs Assistant supports the teacher’s role in the school
The special needs assistant will assist the class teacher in the development of a programme of support for example the development of an IEP. They will communicate with the class teacher with any progress and any observations that may need the teachers attention. They must possess good skills and qualities in communication and observation. They must be trustworthy and be able to build a trusting relationship with the child.
The Education Act 1987
To implement provision in the interests and good for the education of every child in the State, including any child with special educational needs. (Oireachtas.ie, 2018).
This means that every child regardless of ability or disabilities are entitled to an education under the education act. The role of the special needs assistant would not be of a demand if it wasn’t for this act.
The National Disability Authority Act
The national disability authorities mandate are set out in the National Disability Authority Act 1999 and the Disability Act 2005.The National Disability Authority’s work guides on policies, practice, and technical standards that address the challenges to full inclusion of people with disabilities in Irish society, across a wide range of areas such as employment, housing, support services, transport, information technology and the built environment ( Chevron Notes, 2016)
Examples of this are all public services like bus transport must be wheelchair accessible and have designated wheelchair zone onboard.
The Education (Welfare) Act 2000
To provide for the entitlement of every child in the State to a certain minimum education, and, for that purpose, to provide for the registration of children receiving education in places other than recognised schools, the compulsory attendance of certain children at recognised schools, the establishment of a body, to be known as the National Educational Welfare Board the coordination of its activities and those of certain other persons in so far as they relate to matters connected with school attendance, the identification of the causes of non-attendance on the part of certain students and the adoption of measures for its prevention. (Asti.ie, 2018) The Act has provisions in order to ensure school attendance.
• a statutory obligation on parents to ensure their child attends a recognised school;
• an obligation on schools to register all children attending; and the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board
The Equal Status Act 2000
The Equal Status Acts 2000-2015 (‘the Acts’) prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and education. They cover the nine grounds of gender, marital status, family status, age disability, sexual orientation, race, religion, and membership of the Traveller. In addition, the Acts prohibit discrimination in the provision of accommodation services against people who are in receipt of rent supplement, housing assistance, or social welfare payments. (The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, 2018)
For example if a disabled person or a family with a disabled or special needs child wanted to rent a house the landlord is prohibited to decline their application on the grounds of disability. They must be treated equally.
Education For Persons With Special Educational Needs Act
Under the Act, children with special educational needs will be educated “in an inclusive environment with children who do not have such needs”, unless this should be inconsistent either with the best interest of the child, or with the effective provision for the other children. The EPSEN Act 2004 provides for the provision of education plans for students with special educational needs (SEN). (Chevron Notes, 2016)
For example a child with Asperger’s syndrome will be educated in mainstream school if it benefits the child . The child will have access to supports and individual education plans.
We now live in the era of integration and inclusion. The governments first major step in making this happen was when Ireland signed an EU Council of Ministers’ Charter which obliged Departments of Education to actively promote the concept of Inclusion in schools. There were a number of policies that
Kildare.ie. (2018). Summary of White Paper on Education 1995 – Education – Kildare Community Network Ireland. online Available at: http://kildare.ie/education/primary/summary-white-paper-on-education-1995.asp Accessed 2 Aug. 2018
Citizensinformation.ie. (2018). Special needs education. online Available at: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/education/the_irish_education_system/special_education.html#l46600 Accessed 2 Aug. 2018.
Asiam.ie. (2018). The Role of SNAs – AsIAm.ie. online Available at: https://asiam.ie/i-am-a-professional/the-role-of-snas/ Accessed 2 Aug. 2018.
Oireachtas.ie. (2018). Education Act 1998. online Available at: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/1997/67/ Accessed 7 Aug. 2018.
Asti.ie. (2018). ASTI: Education Welfare Act. online Available at: https://www.asti.ie/operation-of-schools/legislation/education-welfare-act/ Accessed 7 Aug. 2018.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. (2018). Equal Status Acts. online Available at: https://www.ihrec.ie/guides-and-tools/human-rights-and-equality-in-the-provision-of-good-and-services/what-does-the-law-say/equal-status-acts/ Accessed 7 Aug. 2018.